Creative counting

As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once famously said, you’re entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. But that’s a problem for CNN’s Piers Morgan, because the real facts don’t support his position:

When guest A.W.R. Hawkins cited Virginia as an example where violent crime fell in 2012 as gun sales increased, Morgan answered that “It’s Virginia, the very state you just quoted to me actually has the highest murder rate in the country. According to 2009 statistics by the FBI.” Morgan’s assertion was entirely false, according to the FBI’s 2009 report on crime.

The FBI’s 2009 Crime In the United States report placed Virginia behind 23 other states plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico in the murder and nonnegligent manslaughter rate per 100,000 inhabitants. And in case Morgan was referring to the firearm murder rate, Virginia still did not have the highest in the country.

The 2009 FBI statistics are here. But why dwell on 2009, anyway? In 2011 (the most recent year for which the FBI has published statistics), Virginia’s murder rate had improved further, by more than the nation as a whole I might add.

Moreover, the FBI cautions against making the sort of comparison Morgan is trying to make in the first place:

Each year when Crime in the United States is published, many entities—news media, tourism agencies, and other groups with an interest in crime in our Nation—use reported figures to compile rankings of cities and counties. These rankings, however, are merely a quick choice made by the data user; they provide no insight into the many variables that mold the crime in a particular town, city, county, state, region, or other jurisdiction. Consequently, these rankings lead to simplistic and/or incomplete analyses that often create misleading perceptions adversely affecting cities and counties, along with their residents.

In this case, I think a misleading perception is what Morgan was going for.

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